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Saudi Arabia in deal to buy German tanks: security sources

RIYADH/BERLIN--Saudi Arabia is buying hundreds of tanks from Germany, Saudi security sources said, in a multibillion euro deal that German opposition lawmakers say contravenes the country's export guidelines for military hardware.

The oil-rich Gulf state has bought 44 Leopard tanks in the first phase of the deal for a total of 200 tanks in coming months, the sources said.

The purchase follows a US$93 billion stimulus package from Saudi King Abdullah in March that included extra support for police and security forces. The handout was a response to unrest sweeping through the Arab world.

The German government declined to confirm the deal.

“So far, Saudi has bought 44 tanks from Germany and ... in total wants to buy 200 tanks from Germany,” one security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

The source declined to give a value for the purchase, saying it was a multibillion euro deal. The 2A7+ tanks are made by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall.

KMW said it was not aware of any changes to trade regulations covering military exports.

A senior parliamentarian from the leading opposition Greens said such a sale would violate German guidelines.

“This is a blatant breach of weapons export guidelines,” Green MP Katja Keul told Reuters, saying tanks came under the rubric of weapons that should not be exported to crisis-hit regions.

Der Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday that the German government's security council gave the deal its stamp of approval last week.

Germany has typically refrained from exporting heavy weapons to Gulf states in consideration for its regional ally Israel. But Spiegel reported that the German security council no longer regard Saudi tank divisions a threat to Israel.

In Berlin, spokesmen for the defense and foreign ministries and for Chancellor Angela Merkel said the security council's meetings and decisions were secret.

“The German government is not against the interests of Israel or its right to exist,” spokesman Steffen Seibert added. “It's a cornerstone of our policies.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said Saudi Arabia was “an important economic and political partner in the (Gulf) region.”

Officials at the Saudi defense ministry were not immediately available for comment.

Widespread protests have resulted in regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, and uprisings have occurred in Libya, Yemen and Syria, popularly known as the Arab Spring. In Saudi Arabia, minority Shiites staged demonstrations in the kingdom's main oil-producing Eastern Province, but there have been no large-scale protests.

King Abdullah in March also ordered the creation of 60,000 security jobs within the interior ministry.

“There is a general plan to increase all counts of defense equipment and number of people working in that sector,” said a second security source.

Last year, U.S. officials said that Saudi planned to buy US$60 billion worth of military aircraft, including upgrades to existing aircraft.

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